I told a massage therapist today that I haven’t had a lot of time for self-care because I have a three-year old and a ten month old. She laughed and said on my behalf, “Self-care? WHAT’S THAT?!”
It’s a buzz word. All the mom blogs say we need to make time for self-care. There are apps, books, workshops, and online seminars for it. There are businesses completely dedicated to helping people create self-care routines. There are moms who get up at five o’clock in the morning so that they can read, write, and exercise while my three-year old, Eleanor, is charging into my room at 6:36 AM shouting, “WAKE UP IT’S MORNING TIME. MOMMY GET UP. I’M SO HUNGRY. CAN I HAVE A POPSICLE?”
I used to think that I needed to set aside thirty minutes every day just for me. That’s easy to do, right? But life gets in the way. I have to get Eleanor ready for preschool, or it’s time to nurse Jane. I have to do the laundry, or it’s time to prep dinner. I even schedule it on our family calendar, but it’s almost like a joke that’s laughing in my face. “Oh, thirty minutes to yourself? To take care of yourself? Who do you think you are – Taylor Swift?”
My problem is that in my desperation for self-care, I try to start too much at once. I printed out a habit tracking worksheet a couple of weeks ago and listed the following daily activities: jog for ten minutes, stretch for ten minutes, journal for ten minutes, play piano for ten minutes, and meditate. I hung it up on the refrigerator door and you know what happened? After two days, I started to ignore it. I averted my eyes the same way you do when you see someone you know at the grocery store, and you walk right by them acting like you never saw them. (Because who has time to talk about nonfat Greek yogurt? THE DEVIL).
Gervase Kolmos wrote “How to Fit Self-Care into Your #Momlife” for Charleston Moms Blog earlier this year, and one of the strategies she offered was so simple: take hot showers alone. Because it’s something you hopefully do every day, it’s easier to turn it into a self-care ritual as opposed to a necessary chore. “We tend to overcomplicate this whole taking-care-of-ourselves thing,” she writes. “I mean, I’m a woman, so I basically overcomplicate everything, but self-care doesn’t have to mean sneakily stealing hours for yourself from your poor neglected family.”
In the spirit of my post “Simplify Your To-Do List,” I decided that I need to pick three very small things that I can do for myself every day. My criteria? They had to be tasks that could be done without a specific time commitment. So, I picked the following:
- Get on my yoga mat.
- Open my journal.
- Go outside.
I don’t have to commit to an hour or even a half hour of yoga. All I need to do is unroll my mat and get on it. This simple act could result in nothing but crumbs and juice stains, but it could also lead to a simple stretch or even a couple of deep breaths.
I don’t have to commit to writing a certain amount of pages or a specific length of time. If all I write is, “It’s so early. Why?” That’s okay. But if the kids happen to cooperate or are so enamored with Daniel Tiger that I can get a couple of minutes more, then I can elaborate.
I don’t have to commit to running a half marathon or even around the block. All I need to do is put on my shoes and step out the door. I can just put my hands on my hips and feel the sun on my face, or maybe I can take a strut around the yard.
The point is this: sometimes our expectations for self-care are so lofty that they cannot be attained. Sometimes Pinterest fools us into thinking that we have time to use that DIY bath bomb we made with baking soda and fairy dust. Sometimes that girlfriend from high school who posts pictures on Facebook of her vacation in Bali makes us hate life. But our self-care methods have to be based on us, on our present circumstances, and what we can control.
No one but you can come up with what you need for self-care. Some chick with a TED Talk can convince you that you need to meditate every day to really be happy. Or that new Oprah book club pick can tell you that you, yes you, can have it all if you just change your attitude. But it’s called self-care because it is tailored to you. It’s not based on what people think you need to be happy and feel good. It’s based on what you need at this moment to get you through the day.
So, if you have a minute, try to think of three very small things that you can do to take care of you. It can be as simple as brushing your hair, or splashing cold water on your face. And those three things don’t have to stay the same forever. Self-care changes as you change. What was helpful a year ago might not be helpful now. Cut yourself some slack.
Here’s a suggestion if you’re having a hard time: get off your phone, stand up, and run your fingers through your hair. Self-care doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or time. It just needs to remind you that you’re not only a mom, or a wife, or an employee, or a volunteer. You are you, and you need to love yourself just as much as you love your kids…and Tarzan.